Microsoft is considering dropping support for regular software on Windows 8 on ARM tablets, according to the latest leaks, leaving owners of the slates with only Metro-style apps to play with. Contrary to original suggestions from Microsoft, that developers – although having to rewrite their x86 software to suit ARM chipsets – would be able to release regular, desktop versions of their apps for Windows 8 tablets, that decision now looks like it will be reversed, ZDNet reports. It’s suggested the turnaround could be part of Microsoft’s strategy to better challenge Apple’s iPad with consumer-centric devices.
Until now, Microsoft has said that Windows 8 ARM tablet owners would have a choice when it came to software. The new OS brings the Metro UI to PCs from Windows Phone, with a more finger-friendly, Live Tile based interface for touch use and general multitasking, and the regular desktop underneath if needed. Now, it seems, Microsoft may limit ARM Windows 8 tablets only to that Metro UI, and apps that support it.
While limiting app choice may initially seem like a poor idea on Microsoft’s part, the strategy hasn’t been a hinderance to Apple. The iPad runs iOS rather than OS X, after all, and has encouraged a flourishing third-party developer scene of its own; our experience with Windows 8’s Metro interface, albeit on an x86 tablet not an ARM-based one, suggests that the new UI is a huge step forward for touchscreen usability, something previous iterations of Windows-based tablets have always struggled with.
Windows 8 Metro UI hands-on:
Forcing only tablet-centric apps onto ARM slates – which, with their focus on battery longevity, browsing and multimedia consumption are likely to be the main models to appeal to consumers potentially also considering an iPad – is likely to result in a more controlled, consistent user experience. Of course, Microsoft’s big challenge remains timing; although the Windows 8 x86 public beta is now expected early in the new year, ARM-based hardware isn’t tipped to arrive until mid-2013. That delay could be enough for Microsoft to miss its chance at the consumer tablet market altogether researchers have warned.
It’s unclear at this stage whether the limitation also exists for notebooks/netbooks running Windows 8 on ARM chipsets.